Compliment vs. Complement

ComplimentCommas are going to have to take a break today, because I have an amazing compliment/complement mishap story. I’m at my in-laws for Mother’s Day weekend, and we all went to the grocery store. The store now sells alcoholic beverages, which it never did before, and boasted the new products with a huge sign: “Buy a beer to compliment your meal!” I turned to my husband and said, “That sign is wrong.” Would you have known it was wrong? If not, keep reading to see the difference between these two homonyms.

Compliment

So this is the typical culprit word. A lot of people don’t know that compliment actually has a homonym, so they just use this word. Unfortunately, they–much like the store–are wrong. Compliment is used for when one gives or receives praise of some sort. For example:

He complimented my writing ability.
It was a very nice compliment when she said I looked pretty.

Notice with both of these examples praise was being given. Whether it’s being pretty or having a great writing ability, they both congratulate someone for a trait he or she posseses.

Complement

THIS is what the grocery store sign should have said. Complement means that one thing completes another or makes it perfect. So that sign should have said, “Buy a beer to complement your meal!” This would mean that the beer completes the meal and makes it amazing. The way it was written in the store indicates that the beer is going to say wonderful things about your meal (“What a nice slice of pizza you have there!”). Let’s look at some more examples of complement.

That color complements her eyes.
The dancers’ costumes complemented the scenery.

Notice in these examples, complement illustrates a level of perfection obtained because of another object. The person’s eyes look better because of the color he or she is wearing, and the scenery looks better because of the costumes.

Final Thoughts

So I’m sorry that you’re going to have to wait a little longer for commas, but I just HAD to do this today. Don’t make an embarrassing mistake like the grocery store did. Remember though, you can get complimented on how well your outfit complements your eyes! Good luck!

Posted in Grammar Quick Fix.